Is a Joint Will a Good Idea?

A joint last will is a single document shared by two people, a last will and testament that leaves all the pair's possessions to one another. A joint will is usually created by a married couple, so after both spouses die, the joint will says everything goes to their children. This would be true even if the surviving spouse remarried, ensuring that a child's inheritance was fully preserved. In theory, it sounds nice. But the reality is that a joint will is riddled with severe problems. In fact, probate courts might reject it (joint wills aren't accepted in certain states), and estate planning attorneys will probably advise you against making one.

The main problem is that usually, a joint will cannot be revoked or even edited unless both spouses agree to do so: If one spouse has already passed away, the joint will's terms cannot be amended. This would severely restrict what the surviving spouse could do with the property. For instance, he or she could not take out some of an adult child's inheritance, letting the adult child obtain a portion of it early, such as if they need the funds for a down payment on a home or for a startup. A surviving spouse might not even be able to sell the home in order to downsize, or to sell anything else listed in the will.

Whatever a couple hopes to accomplish with their joint will, the good news is that you can achieve these goals without this cumbersome document. For instance, there are many types of trusts that can ensure that even if a surviving spouse remarries, your children's inheritance won't go to anyone else. Trusts can also create guidelines on how certain property will be used, without the rigid, unchangeable terms of a joint will.

If you would like to learn how a simple will and living trusts could accomplish what you would like in an estate plan, call a probate lawyer today!